In the summer of 2009, while at the Seminary at Andrews University, I had the pleasure of taking a course in Protestant Theological Heritage with one of my favorite professors, Dr. Martin Hanna. Dr. Hanna is a soft-spoken, intelligent man, and I appreciated his willingness to draw truth from wherever it comes. In discussing the history of the Protestant movement, Dr. Hanna frequently drew on philosophical ideas from several different thinkers. As someone with more than a passing interest in philosophy, I appreciated the connections being made between those works and the theological writers we were studying. But for some of the students in the class, this was a problem. Philosophers did not have any connection to Jesus, they argued. The only thing necessary to explicate the concepts of Christianity and Protestantism were the words of the Lord in the Bible. From time to time over the period of the class, these students would raise their voices publicly in protest. Dr. Hanna would engage them, his only point being that we can learn even from those who do not have an explicit connection to Christ. One day, when the voices came out again in protest of the mention of philosophy, Dr. Hanna quoted 1 Cor 9:19-23.
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”
Dr. Hanna then asked a simple question. “What do you become to the philosopher?” Realizing there was no acceptable answer for them to that question, all criticism ceased.
As we are a few days removed from a celebration of the birth of Christ and as we turn our eyes forward to a new year, I thought of this story as I thought about what I want to see in our church. In general my prayer is for a willingness to be flexible as we seek to live out the Commission for which we were created. I am praying for the desire to be all things to all people in our efforts to save some. As I look around at Christianity and Adventism, it seems like the loudest voices are advocating just the opposite – that people must conform to us in order to be a part of our church, not that we might need to become like them. In the new year, I would love to be a part of a church where members lived out the high internal calling Jesus advocated while at the same time externally accepting all who are willing to come. I am praying that we see the ultimate spiritual benefit in all of our diversity, and in the absence of uniformity. Finally, I am praying for a church that can see itself the way the world sees it, realize that view is largely not positive, and care enough to change that view for the salvation of others.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines
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